In my previous posting about the Toronto Island Airport bridge cancellation, commenter Paul Henri asks why it is such an important issue to me. He says he wouldn't put the issue in the top 30 facing Toronto, and can't figure out why I (and others) pay so much attention to it.
James Bow has already given a good answer, however I was working on something longer and decided to finish it anyway. I think it was important to do so, because as I wrote about the Toronto Port Authority and its bridge plans, I realized it has stood as a symbol for me about all the reasons I don't feel like voting Liberal this time.
First, in and of itself, the bridge is a poor idea that threatens the waterfront. And I think the waterfront redevelopment is important.
The sole and stated purpose of building the bridge is to allow the island airport to massively expand. We don't need a huge airport on the waterfront. We don't need the noise and traffic it will bring to the area. Despite the "wall of condos", there are still many places down there where you can attempt to enjoy being on the water. Furthermore, the airport expansion would be detrimental to areas of the waterfront that have yet to be developed (where hopefully we can do a better job) -- Queen's Quay East and the Port Lands.
And lets consider the infamous "wall of condos". I don't actually have any complaint about the condos that are on the north side of Queen's Quay, and couldn't care less about their height. But let's save that discussion for another day. The fact is that there are now thousands of people living in the area. They won't enjoy a dramatic increase in planes flying past their windows, and their property values would suffer for it. This, by itself, shouldn't kill the airport idea, but it is a negative that should be considered.
When you stack these negatives up against the positives, the island airport expansion really seems like a poor idea. That's because the "positives" seem so weak to me. I just don't believe that this project would bring more people to Toronto or help our economy one bit. We already have a very good international airport that has just had a huge expansion. Flights to Pearson are on faster, more comfortable planes -- it is likely that no-one coming from New York City (or anyplace further) would be more likely to come to Toronto because they have the option to ride a smaller, slower plane right into downtown. As for tourism, the appeal and attractiveness of the city is much more important than possibly saving a few minutes. Building the bridge and expanding the airport moves Toronto the wrong way.
Democracy and local control are important.
The first argument, above, is somewhat obsolete now. The fact is, the people of Toronto are deemed to have voted against the bridge project when they elected David Miller last November. Then, our elected City Council also voted against the bridge.
This is a very local issue, and should be determined locally. A significant problem in Canada today is the lack of local control over issues of local significance, and the weakness of local democracy. The federal government has been sadly unresponsive to this issue. On the bridge issue the Martin government has failed to execute the will of the people and council for seven months and counting. In fact, it looks like they might have ignored our demands if this wasn't such a close election.
Additionally, I'm still peeved at the federal government's agency -- the Toronto Port Authority -- for its false threats during the municipal election. Over and over they told us that it was too late to stop the bridge, they were about to start building it, and the costs of stopping it would be enormous. None of these things were true. Their purpose was to scare voters into thinking that they shouldn't get to voice their opinion on the matter.
The Toronto Pork Authority is useless.
The Toronto Port Authority is a federal agency that was created by the Liberals against all reason. We do not need a federal agency to manage our port because our port is insignificant. Toronto’s port failed to make it into Statcan’s top 20 ports by tonnage handled list, 2001 and 2002.
What the Toronto Port Authority is is a patronage pit interested solely in self-perpetuation. A CommunityAir report points out that "Five out of five of the original Port Authority Directors are closely tied to Canada’s natural governing party. A majority of subsequent federal nominees are also closely tied to the Liberals." It loses money every year and owes the City millions in back taxes. It ought to be shut down.
The purpose of the airport expansion was never to serve the interests of the City of Toronto. It was to keep a money-losing airport and a money-losing port authrority in business. This useless agency is the child of the federal government and exists to exert federal control in the city and provide nice jobs for nice Liberals. To me, this is a sign that our federal government is sick, and needs treatment. How many other "Toronto Pork Authorities" are there across this country?
Don't forget, the unwanted airport expansion was almost pushed through thanks to the Liberal Port Authority and its deal with Liberal fundraiser Bombardier, supported by Liberal mayoral candidate Barbara Hall, who was endorsed by a fleet of Liberal parliamentarians. I thought these were supposed to be our friends?
This is symptomatic of Liberal promises
The federal government's pathetic inability to act on this issue over the seven months since Toronto City Council voted reminds me too much of the promises they have taken to spewing -- on the waterfront, on transit, on all sorts of issues.
They frequently like to make a big statement, but back it up with nothing. A few years ago they promised $500-million for Toronto waterfront revitalization. Today, the Waterfront Revitalization Corporation is near bankruptcy because it has received only a fraction of that.
Or take the TTC, for example. There was a big announcement a few months ago about $1-billion for the TTC. What it really comes down to is an average of $70-million per year, for 5 years, from the federal government. But even that is an exageration. The feds want to stagger that money and shift most of it to later years. So far, no one has seen a dime and no one has signed any deal.
I'm sick of reannouncements of old money that take the form of "billions of billions of dollars over millions and millions of years" that are always followed by the small print that says, "beginning with 25 cents this year and a toonie next year, pending negotiations; we reserve the right to reannounce this a few more times before forgetting all about it".
What does this have to do with the bridge to the island airport? I don't know. I guess when I think about the bridge, and the federal government's reluctance to stop it, it makes me think about the bogus waterfront revitalization promises. And that makes me think of all the other bogus promises.
Please read this recent John Barber column that adds some detail to this issue. And don't get me started on Dennis Mills' loopy and vaporous (but characteristic) personal plan to "save" the waterfront.
The Toronto caucus is useless
I have felt for too long that the Toronto Liberal caucus as been simply dead wood when it comes to dealing with Toronto issues. Nearly ignoring our position on the island airport was just one more sign of this.
I have been happy with the Liberal party on other things -- balanced budgets, at least moderate support for public programs, Clarity Act, socially Liberal (e.g., same-sex marriage), keeping out of Iraq, etc. (Unfortunately, some of these have been very questionable under the new leader.) But when it comes to the City of Toronto, our local MPs have seemed deaf to our concerns and impotent in Ottawa.
Actually, it's worse than that. Characters like Joe Volpe behave as if they were sent from Ottawa to control this City for his federal masters. When Paul Martin came to Toronto to make an annoucement about funding for the waterfront it was money that had been announced years ago, but previously a larger amount. This isn't a promise, it's a retraction of an old promise replaced by less! When the public and press pointed this out, the minister responsible for Toronto, Joe Volpe, told us we're ungrateful.
The uselessness of our local MPs -- and the insulting nature by which they've taken us for granted -- is the biggest reason that I won't be voting Liberal this year.
(The previously mentioned John Barber column is relevant to this topic, too.)
I guess Paul is right in a way. The bridge, in and of itself, isn't the most important issue -- although to me, it is a very important one. It is much more significant, however, in what it demonstrates about the current government, its local MPs, and how they relate to local issues. And these local issues annoy me to the point where I remind myself of an enraged Albertan.
Except, unlike most enraged Albertans, I'm probably voting Green.